Earth, Wind & Fire Ants

A six inch long “thousand legger” in my bathroom.

Two rows of “army ants” crossing my path in the bush.

Picking “fire ants” off my clothing near the property.

Just a few of the special friends I encountered today. My wife, Kathy, may not like snakes but, walking in to take a shower and being greeted by a millipede is not enjoyable. Luckily he rolled up in a ball and I got rid of him. After a rather enjoyable solo shower and another delicious oatmeal breakfast, I was met by Sam Bundo who returned from Monrovia with 3 of his head workers plus zinc and hardware to constrIMG_3302uct our temporary warehouse. This warehouse will not only store building supplies, it will act as a place of lodging for Same and 7 other workers for the duration of the project. We drove to St. Mark’s and met with Sumo so Sam could walk the land as I did yesterday to determine his strategy for the project start. Upon arrival at the small village where the LCL has a mud-built mission church, we began our walk accompanied by about 10 other men (several bearing machetes aka cutlasses). I learned about “upland rice” vs. “swamp rice”, bitter balls, and butter pears (which seem just like avocadoes except pear-shaped).

Check out a quicky video of the land here:  IMG_0090 Sam and his men walked the small area that had been brushed and began discussing access, where rock could be found to hand break into crushed stone for cement work, etc. Being here at the tail end of the rainy season gives us the benefit of seeing potential areas of flooding/swamp to avoid. Based on the property elevation and contour, the only swampy area appears to be across the future road area and not where we would build.  Because this future road to the IMG_3310property is not constructed yet, we explored for alternatives for getting materials on site. Fortunately, an alternative road area that had previously been brushed and abandoned is basically just overgrown with tall grasses–much easier to open up for a vehicle than our first method.  A small timber bridge will be needed to cross a small gully about 2-3 feet wide. This will save a lot of time and manpower walking materials into the site (especially our initial load of concrete consisting of 300 bags each weighing 110lbs.).

We returned to the mission church to have a community meeting.  Women that I had met during last year’s groundbreaking procession through the bush remembered me as the one who had played drums on the plastic bucket with them (I think in Kpelle they actually said, “Hey, there’s that crazy white guy from America who uses a stoddler_boytick on a water bucket.  Doesn’t he know we have real drums here in Liberia!?!?“).  They were very excited and all began singing with me playing an actual African drum they had in the church. After a few songs, the meeting began with a small procession by several women carrying a small bowl filled with rice, palm nuts (I think), and some money. Check out some of it here:   The women sprinkled bits of rice as they walked forward (similar to our wedding tradition but being frugal with the rice). The plate was handed to me and I was to eat from the bowl and pass it.  Apparently this is a Kpelle tradition for welcoming someone.

Afterwards, I was welcomed formerly by Sumo. I returned my greetings. Then Sam took the floor to explain our plan of action for construction. He is very organized and very clear about expectations for worker behavior (work time, performance, alcohol/drugs, cell phone use, pay scales for skilled workers, etc.).  He has a very systematic means of keeping track of workers, materials, and tools. Overall a very professional guy. I’m feeling very confident about working with him. The conversation in the meeting then turned to a question from the mission church members who asked what they would be getting in return for brushing the land. In my conversation with Sumo yesterday and earlier this morning, it was clearly stated by him that the church would be providing 20 to 25 “volunteer” workers to brush the land and haul supplies. After hearing Sam discuss compensation and realizing that by volunteering they were losing time they could be earning income other places (i.e. “I work for myself and any day I volunteer I don’t get money for my family”), there was a change in attitude about their roles. This unfortunate conversation lasted some time, followed by a separate meeting of the men. I was very “un – Jon Rossman – like” in my directness to them stating this was our agreement from the start of the project, I’m also self-employed and will be here six weeks without getting paid. Additionally, with all of the previous LCL school projects for which Sam was the contractor, the community was required to provide 20,000 hand-made mud blocks plus sand for the entire project–at their expense. We are only expecting time. We finally came to an agreement and land will be brushed starting tomorrow (Saturday). I think this will be an ongoing cultural challenge for the next several years.

Sam will return Tuesday morning with more men to build the temporary warehouse. His crew will stay and he will return to Monrovia with me and my driver, Saah. We’ll go on a little shopping trip for tools, generator, supplies, cement, etc. and return Thursday with a very full hired truck. I’ll appreciate being back for a brief stay at the LCL compound and the luxury of A/C.  I’ll also load up on food goods since the market options are non-existent here (except for a market stall if I need peppers, cassava, and plantains).

Today is the first day in several that my stomach has been “calm”.  I’ve been cooking my own meals and washing everything with bleach solution in water. Now if I could only stop the real bugs from coming…I hate those thousand leggers!

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